Q&A: A lost interview with ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert
On the the 60th anniversary of the unveiling of ENIAC, a newly discovered interview with "Pres" Eckert explodes some ENIAC myths.
J. Presper Eckert
I recorded two days of interviews with "Pres" Eckert in 1989. He was 70 years old. My father was Pres' best friend from childhood and I'd spent my childhood playing with his children. I visited him regularly as an adult. On that day, we spoke in his living room in Gladwyne, Pa. -- most of the time sitting on the floor. We stopped talking about computers only to fiddle with his Nova Chord electronic organ, which predated ENIAC, and we fiddled with stereo speakers. On a second occasion I recorded a conversation at his daughter's home in western Massachusetts. Eckert died in 1995. I've had the interview tapes for many years, but decided to transcribe them for ENIAC's 60th anniversary.
How did calculating machines work before ENIAC?
Well, a person with a paper and pencil can add two 10-digit numbers in about 10 seconds. With a hand calculator the time is down to 4 seconds. The Harvard Mark 1 was the last of the electromechanical computers -- it could add two 10-digit numbers in 0.3 seconds, about 30 times faster than paper and pencil.
When I was a graduate student, the Moore School of Electronics had two analyzers that were essentially copies of Vannevar Bush's machine from MIT.
What could that machine do?
It could solve linear differential equations, but only linear equations. It had a long framework divided into sections with a couple dozen shafts buried through it. You could put different gears on the shafts using screwdrivers and hammers and it had "integrators," that gave [the] product of two shafts coming in on a third shaft coming out. By picking the right gear ratio you should get the right constants in the equation. We used published tables to pick the gear ratios to get whatever number you wanted. The limit on accuracy of this machine was the slippage of the mechanical wheels on the integrator.
That made me say, "Let's built electronic integrators and stick them into this machine instead of those wheel
- Silicon Valley's 19 Coolest Places to Work
- Is Windows 8 Development Worth the Trouble?
- 8 Books Every IT Leader Should Read This Year
- 10 Hot Hadoop Startups to Watch
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- Logicalis eBook: SAP HANA: The Need for Speed Without timely business insights, organizations today can suffer logistical, manufacturing, and even financial disaster in a matter of minutes
- Neustar 2014 DDoS Attacks and Impact Report For the third consecutive year, Neustar surveyed hundreds of companies on distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. The survey reveals evidence that the...
- Acxiom Case Study This case study, which focuses on Acxiom, explores how the company was able to secure employee data, reduce migration costs and boost productivity...
- Windows® XP Migration: Protect and Secure Critical Data With the end of the Microsoft Windows XP operating system's lifecycle on April 8, 2014, businesses are faced with the decision to migrate...
- Top 4 Digital Signage Fails Join RMG Networks for a look at four of the most common reasons digital signage fails in corporate businesses. Learn about strategies to...
- Building Tomorrow's Infrastructure Listen to this podcast to discover how Crider Foods worked with PC Connection to update their IT infrastructure, while maintaining compliance and control. All Hardware White Papers | Webcasts
Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!